Laxatives are divided into several categories: osmotics, such as Milk of Magnesia or Miralax; bulk-forming, including Metamucil or Benefiber; stool softeners, such as Colace; stimulants, such as Senokot; and rectal stimulants, which are sold as Pedia-Lax and Ducolax. Osmotics, stool softeners, stimulants and bulk-forming laxatives are taken orally. Rectal stimulants are given by suppository.
Osmotic laxatives draw water from surrounding tissues into the colon to promote a bowel movement. Bulk-forming laxatives absorb water to create soft, bulky stools passed by normal intestinal contractions. Stool softeners add moisture to stools to reduce straining. Stimulant laxatives cause strong, rhythmic intestinal contractions to pass stools. Rectal stimulants work the same way as oral stimulant laxatives.
Bloating, cramping, gas, nausea and stomach discomfort are common side effects associated with laxative use. Increased thirst and electrolyte imbalances can occur with some of these medications, particularly if they are used long term. Overuse can cause dependence on laxatives to have a bowel movement.
The best way to treat constipation is through simple lifestyle changes such as drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day, eating a balanced, fiber-rich diet, and increasing physical activity. Individuals should always make time for bowel movements and refrain from "holding it" even if the timing is inconvenient, Everyday Health advises. Finally, if a medical condition is contributing to constipation, it is important to work with a physician to address the problem.